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Understanding the problem of evil

Unsplash/Julio Rionaldo

In one of my recent articles, "3 Reasons Why People Doubt The Existence of God," what I didn’t mention is a fourth reason — the problem of evil. That kind of doubt deserves a separate article — this one.

The problem of evil is probably the biggest objection to God’s existence that one may have. We may hear, “If God is so good, then why did he let my loved one die?” Or, “If God is all good and all-powerful and He didn’t stop that earthquake from killing all those people, then He’s either not all good, or He’s not all-powerful.” Let me be clear, it is not God that is evil or causes evil. It is man that is evil. Man has committed heinous evil against man over the centuries. The Holocaust and 9/11 are two examples. My good friend, author and professor Dr. Clay Jones, points out, “With that perspective in mind, the question changes from, “Why does God allow evil,” to “Why does God allow humans?”[1]

Moral evil

We can’t understand moral evil without first understanding why we are born with a sinful nature. In a nutshell, here is the reason. Adam was commanded not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam sinned by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This resulted in what we call the fall. When he sinned, he was separated from the right relationship with God, and all of Adam's and Eve’s children were born into this sinful state, and spiritual death entered the world. We inherited that sinful nature from Adam, and we are now born with it.

Because of that sinful nature, we are selfish, prideful, and greedy. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 3:12 that there is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:3 tells us the same. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Then in Romans 5:12, Paul explains Federal Headship by explaining that just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all people because all sinned. We are not good. God gave us free will. That free will gives us the option to do either good or evil. When people choose evil, people are hurt.

Why doesn’t God stop moral evil? If God could stop us from committing evil, then he would have to take away our free will. Doing so would be evil in itself because He would also be taking away our ability to choose to do good. God put us here to love, worship and serve Him. That is His will for our life. God wants a relationship with us, and so He wants us to love Him of our own free will. Worship must be uncoerced. If he made us love him, then we’d be nothing but moist robots. That would not be a relationship. So, He gives us free will, and those who choose to love Him, do so freely and genuinely.

Jones points out that when it comes to senseless suffering, the cosmic lesson is this — most suffering is the result of human sin, either ours or Adam's and Eve’s. So, the lesson is not to hate God. But hate sin! [2]

Natural evil   

When the fall occurred, God cursed the ground in response to Adam’s sin. In Genesis 3:17-19, the Lord told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you …” Jones explains, “God is withdrawing his unqualified blessing and imposing a curse upon the filling and the subduing of the earth.”[3] Because of this, both man and the rest of creation suffer.

Some examples of natural evil include things like earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, avalanches, Covid, cancers, decay, and mold. Those are things we can’t control. Why does God allow particular natural evils to occur? One answer is that God wants natural laws to occur in regular ways. For example, let’s say that a hurricane hits a particular city. We will learn to fortify our buildings and bridges better. We can learn from natural evils to prevent future ones. Sometimes, the answer is that we just don’t know. This is a hard truth to swallow. Sometimes we don’t understand God. But Romans 8:28 assures the Christian that “God works all things for the good of those who love him, and who have been called according to his purpose.”

If you’ve ever looked at the back of a needlepoint, you have seen that it looks like a convoluted mess. But the front side is complete, and clean, with a clearly defined picture of what the creator was trying to accomplish. When we look at our lives, we see the back side, the messy side of the needlepoint. But God sees the front side. He knows where He is taking us. We must trust that our creator knows what He is doing. We don’t always understand why God allows this or that natural evil, or even particular moral evil, but because He is God, we know that He has a purpose.

The result of evil

God cannot overlook sin and let it go unpunished because He is perfectly Holy and without sin. Sometimes He may spare us the consequences, and sometimes He won’t. But someone has to pay for our sins. Either us or Jesus.

Why Jesus?

Because none of our good deeds could save us (Ephesians 2:8), God sent His only son to atone for our sins. Jesus’ death satisfied God’s wrath toward us once and for all. Like the lambs that were sacrificed for the atonement of sin in the Old Testament, and had to be perfect and without blemish, Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. In the New Testament, and new covenant, the sacrifice for our sins had to be one of us — Jesus was fully man. He also had to be without blemish — Jesus was sinless. Last, He had to be God because only an infinite God could atone for the infinite sins of mankind — Jesus was God. So, Jesus fulfilled all the requirements to make the sacrifice to God acceptable once and for all. We must not just have head knowledge about Jesus. We must believe in, and actually trust in the person and works of Jesus Christ. When we do this, we will be fully saved. This is God’s grace. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life — John 3:16.

Getting through suffering

To get through suffering, we must develop a robust view of Heaven. When we enter eternity, Heaven will dwarf our present suffering to insignificance. Jesus promises that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).

[1] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil?: Compelling Answers For Life’s Toughest Questions (Eugene, Or., Harvest House 2017), 73.
[2] Jones, Why God Allows Evil, 143.
[3] Ibid. 31.

Claudia is a Christian apologist, national speaker, and blogger with a Master of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. She is on the speaking team for the Talbot Seminary Biola On-The-Road Apologetics conferences, teaches Apologetics at her church, and leads the ladies Bible study. Claudia has been a repeat guest on the KKLA radio show in Los Angeles, Real Life With Gina Pastore and David James. Her blog posts have been published multiple times in The Poached Egg online apologetics magazine, and she is a contributing writer for Women In Apologetics. She blogs at Straight Talk With Claudia K. After raising two now adult sons, her focus now is to make an impact in the world for Christ.

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